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Finding a personal relationship with God in jail

Courtesy of Oscar
Oscar's copy of The New Testament


Our ongoing series The Spiritual Edge occasionally spotlights stories about how people have found their own personal religious beliefs. Today’s story profiles an Uber driver named Oscar from Napa. He didn’t grow up particularly religious, but during a months-long incarceration, he found the Bible that would change his life.

Oscar is a 44-year old Uber driver in Napa. We’re not using his last name because of the personal nature of this story.

“Y mi religión,” my religion says Oscar, and then hesitates. “Uh, yo creo, no creo mucho en la religión.” He says his religion — well, he doesn’t believe much in religion.

“Creo en la relación con dios”

Instead, he says, “I believe in my relationship with God,” or “Dios” in Spanish. That’s what’s most important. From it has evolved the hierarchy of his life. It goes like this: God first. Next his family. Church. And finally, work.

Oscar didn’t always think like this. Fifteen years ago, he was a drug addict. His behavior drove his wife Alma to near desperation.

“Si, si yo pensaba dejarlo.” She says yes, I was thinking to leave him.

She says she couldn’t handle the situation any more. I couldn’t continue, she says. There, in their house, she was a witness to his self-destruction. Oscar would stay up all night in the garage smoking crack. They hardly spent time together. She felt lonely. Then in 2004 her husband was arrested for robbery. And in a Santa Clara jail, Oscar found redemption.

Oscar shows me a thin, well-used book he’s fetched from his bedroom.

“Bueno, en mis manos tengo el Nuevo Testamento,” In my hands, I have the New Testament, he tells me.

It’s a Spanish translation of what’s called the New International Version.

You can see that it’s a little broken, a little mistreated, he says. He points to its rumpled pale pink cover and torn pages. It’s seen better days, but Oscar treasures this book. He read it for the first time in jail.  

At that point, religion wasn’t all that important to him. Oscar grew up Catholic in Zacatecas, Mexico. Both in Mexico and after immigrating to the U.S., he’d go with his family to mass for special occasions. For example, when he got married, when he was baptized, and for first communions. And that’s about it. God and the church just didn’t figure all that prominently in his life.  

Oscar says his drug habit started when he was 20 years old, on the day of his son’s birth. His son was born in the wee hours of the morning. Afterwards he couldn’t sleep. A cousin told him a little cocaine would help.

“Y allí, me inició mi carrera de usar drogas.” And there began my drug using career, he says.

He says little by little the drug addiction grew. It followed him to the United States. Finally, he was charged with robbery and sent to jail for what he says was about six months. And that’s when he checked out the Bible from the prison library. He began reading it, and something clicked. Inside, he began to shift.

Oscar says when you begin to pay more attention to the words of Jesus Christ, it’s like a light begins to shine in your mind. He says it’s like you begin to change, but don’t know that you’re changing.

He began to understand from the paperback New Testament edition that if you plant honesty, love, integrity, and compassion, this is what will grow.

“Eso impactó mi vida.” It impacted his life, he says.

Before his stint in jail, Oscar’s wife Alma says he didn’t pay much attention to her or their family. He’d go out a lot. But afterwards, he changed. He ate meals together with the family. And most importantly, he had committed his last crime. Ironically, it was with the New Testament. That is, the copy he discovered during his incarceration.   

On the day of his release, not wanting to leave the Bible behind, he hid the slim paperback in his undergarments, and walked out of jail.

Today, Oscar is actively involved in a Pentecostal church. For him, the church is a reminder of how far he’s come, and also of God’s presence in his life. Still, he says, it was his relationship with God that led him to the church. That relationship with God is personal. It’s what guides him. He says it’s the most important thing.